13 years since its debut, Tekkkonkinkreet remains a ground-breaking tale about the pains of growing up.
In the beginning, there was darkness. And then light. Two boys–Kuro and Shiro—must save their city, Treasure Town, on the verge of massive reconstruction and change at the hands of the Yakuza. Directed by Michael Arias, the 2006 film Tekkonkinkreet is adapted from artist Taiyō Matsumoto’s manga of the same name. Tekkonkinkreet is both parts a coming-of-age story and a gritty crime tale of moral reckoning. These stories messily intermingle and form the backbone that makes Tekkonkinkreet such a compelling picture.
Blood—the carnage that is the result of violence and also symbolic of family ties—is what flows freely in Tekkonkinkreet’s setting and between its two protagonists. Violence is the world of Kuro, the older of the two boys who fiercely protects the younger, Shiro, who lives in a world of fantasy escapism. Like two sides of a scale, Shiro and Kuro compliment each other and in their pursuit of justice for their beloved Treasure Town. However, both must also find moral balance between violence and innocence in an unforgiving adult world of crime and punishment.
Sins of the Father
The first scene of Tekkonkinkreet depicts Shiro and Kuro hunting down their doppelgangers, the brothers Dawn and Dusk across Treasure Town. This scene is the viewer’s first taste of the city’s elaborate pan-Asian aesthetics and busy architecture. Treasure Town is itself a major character in Tekkonkinkreet, one that commands its citizens to navigate it like an elaborate maze as though they were a drunken minotaur. After this chase sequence resolves, it isn’t long before Treasure Town’s crime-fueled underbelly is revealed in the form of Nezumi’s gang, an aging man who for better or worst, also acts as a guardian for Shiro and Kuro.
Known as the Stray Cats, Shiro and Kuro’s positions in Treasure Town is constantly being challenge by the Yakuza, who seek to refurbish and gentrify the town as an urban “Kiddie Palace” with a pro-capitalist bent. This decision doesn’t sit well with Kuro, and thus begins a series of close-encounters with Nezumi and his underlings, who must carefully work around Kuro’s and Shiro’s fierce commitment to keeping Treasure Town the way it’s always been.
The boys, Shiro and Kuro, aren’t inherently violent—children are ultimately depicted not as victims, but as adoptees into a life of necessary crime and delinquency in Tekkonkinkreet. This is never argued, but merely accepted as a fact of life in Treasure Town. Children aren't casualties, but just another cog in a well-oiled machine. This is exemplified during a Yakuza-led meeting as Kuro crashes through a window in the middle of the night–striking like a supernatural vigilante as a swarm of crows surround him. Kuro wastes no time brutally attacking the men with a pipe, thus beginning a downward spiral into bloodshed, and some serious moral questioning for a teen.
Blood is the unspoken language of Treasure Town. It's what Kuro uses to warn the Yakuza in bold letters that he’s serious about keeping the status-quo. The first time we see Kuro bleed in combat is also first time we’re exposed to a wickedness in Kuro that isn’t merely playful, but rooted in a brutal, hungry lust of violence. Yet, it isn’t only Kuro who has such a revealing moment. In a fight between a purple-skinned henchman and Kuro, Shiro pours gasoline and lights the baddie aflame, without any care for his gasoline-soaked brother below. Despite the spectacle and glamour of Tekkonkinkreet's design, this beautiful film still cannot escape brutal and visceral moments like these.
No gesture goes unexplored in these scenes; Shiro's laughing is unforgettable as he lights a match, and nor is Kuro's ominous grin as he breaks window glass across a Yakuza's face. Human blood and man-made materials are easily accessible to the boys and are disposal, as though they were summoned from a cartoonish dimensional pocket rather than reality. But the consequences of their actions are felt nonetheless, in severe injury, in death, regardless of how free and escapist Shiro and Kuro believe their lives may be. These boys are intimately aware of violence's role in their ecosystem, and Tekkonkinkreet wastes no time in its first arc to use blood, flammable liquid, and the destruction of bodies as a means to convey this with destructive, childlike fascination.
For The Sake of Love
For a movie about two deviant kids, there is also a strong adult presence seen in the Yakuza. As mentioned earlier, Nezumi and his right-hand Kimura, seek to change Treasure Town in a capitalist boom city. However, Kimura is promptly dismissed "on vacation" by Nezumi–leaving him vulnerable to the grasps of Tekkonkinkreet's second-act villain, the campy Snake. Ironically, it's a twisted sense of brotherly love that ties the boys and men of Treasure Town together. And this camaraderie between Yakuza members is what Snake takes advantage of, and unfortunately was separates Shiro and Kuro after Snake's henchmen become more persist in hunting them down. Snake’s purple-skinned henchmen, which resemble jiangshi—Chinese vampires—are drone-like in their bloodlust, bringing with them a strong contrast to the paternal theme of family carrying Tekkonkinkreet’s second arc.
Love—it’s inevitably Kuro's love for Shiro is what pulls him further away from Shiro's childlike wonder with the world. After being taken into police custody as Snake’s conflict with Kuro escalates, Shiro becomes further entrenched into the world of fantasy and his hyperactive imagination. Shiro is preoccupied with drawing an entire room full of messy crayon pictures while Kuro threatens anyone in town who questions his authority.
Kuro embraces the maze-like mess that is Treasure Town has become since Shiro’s departure, and consequently must confront his doppleganger known as "the Minotaur,” a demonic green-skinned boy who wears Kuro’s likeness. Appearing human is no longer the point for the Minotaur, the embodiment of everything Shiro helped Kuro repressed. All that matters is expressing another child-like desire—the desire for endless destruction. A desire that Shiro inverts in his desire to create, rather than destroy—to draw pictures of dolphins and bright blue oceans while Kuro’s world visually becomes ashen, representing the underworld where a shinigami or Hades might snatch him away.
The Minotaur and Kuro are parallels in every way Shiro and Kuro aren’t—while Kuro is constantly giving to Shiro, Shiro only receives. For Kuro and his dark Minotaur doppelganger, this relationship is inverted and alluring. If Kuro fully embraces his violent urges and slaughters everyone out to get him, he’ll never see Shiro again. As Kuro falls into a deep depression, only the Minotaur is there to embrace him, hold him tight like the lost child he is, and for a moment allow him to show vulnerability. But vulnerability isn’t what Kuro needs—it’s Shiro, someone to mentor and protect, someone who will always be a beacon on optimism despite their vagrant lifestyle. Someone who creates rather than destroys. In a startling moment of lucidity, Kuro says no, and takes a literal leap of faith away from the Minotaur’s clutches to re-join Shiro. The scene climaxes with the two brothers diving into the ocean, back to enjoying their lives as children without responsibility, without the false promise of violence for violence’s sake.
Blood spilled in Tekkonkinkreet is the same blood spilled between brothers and Yakuza, evil henchmen, and nasty ghouls. The blood of violence is red all across—it pours despite a wicked viscosity with every swing of a makeshift weapon and sword. But Tenkkonkinkreet emphasizes that there is another blood that flows between brothers, which springs forth from found-family, maze-like cities that raises lost children, and escapist fantasies that give siblings hope for the future. Tekkonkinkreet doesn’t play into the myth of a child’s lost innocence, but instead, relishes in that fact that everyone is capable of bloodshed, that the urges for violence is innate in everyone, and in the end no one is completely innocent after the trial-by-fire that is urban adolescence.
Are you a fan of Tekkonkinkreet? Let us know in the comments what this film means to you!
Blake Planty is a writer who loves his cat. He likes old mecha anime, computer games, books, and black coffee. His twitter is @_dispossessed. He's a major Pisces.